Sarah Potter Writes

Pursued by the Muses of prose, poetry, and music.

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Book review: The Writer and the Rake by Shehanne Moore

The Writer and the Rake (Time Mutants #2)The Writer and the Rake by Shehanne Moore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I totally loved everything about this time-travel romance and would give it ten stars if I could.

Brittany Carter is an author, who drinks, smokes, and parties too much. After a surreal encounter with a character called Morte, she’s transported to the Georgian era and meets bad boy Mitchell Killgower, who is locked into an inheritance dispute with some hateful relatives of his deceased wife. When Brittany materialises out of nowhere, he hopes she can prove useful by pretending to be his obedient and mousy wife for long enough to hoodwink those who hold the purse strings and stop his son getting the inheritance. The only trouble is that the feisty Brittany is incapable of fitting into this role and Mitchell has truly met his match on the impossible person’s front.

I don’t want to give too much away, as this will spoil readers’ fun; and the novel is such great fun, in a quirky sense of the word, always sustaining a great forward momentum with wonderfully entertaining dialogue. Come to think of it, I don’t recall the author using any dialogue tags at all and, if she did, they weren’t intrusive.

Brittany is often insufferable, but also pretty cool in a chaotic way. Mitchell is a Mr Darcy type: dark, handsome, brooding, stubborn, hard to impress, and master of his heart, but decidedly sexier than the original. His relationship with Brittany is meant as a short-term arrangement of convenience and nothing more. And the feeling is mutual …until it isn’t.

Speaking of the raunchy scenes, Shehanne Moore knows how to write about sex in a way that’s humorous, playful, erotic and, at times, intense. It’s never explicit, because it doesn’t need to be; the subtle interplay of all the human senses is sufficient.

On the hilarity front, the crowning moment for me is when Mitchell rifles through Brittany’s bag and puzzles over its contents from the future, and then questions her about one of the items in particular.

If you haven’t already guessed, I fell in love with Mitchell and felt really sorry for him when Brittany kept appearing and disappearing. A rake like Mitchell does not give his heart easily to a woman, preferring the casual company of floosies when needs dictate.

The Writer and the Rake can be read as a standalone novel, even though it’s the second part of a series. One reviewer has suggested that, in order to understand the time mutants better, it’s an idea to read the series in the right order, starting with The Viking and the Courtesan.

As you can imagine, Time Mutants #1 is near the top of my reading list, as I can’t get enough of Shehanne Moore’s writing and am delighted to have discovered someone with such a fresh and original voice.

A highly recommended read.

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Review: Christy Birmingham’s Poetry Collection “Versions of The Self”

 

Versions of the Self

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THE POETRY COLLECTION AS DESCRIBED BY CHRISTY 

Imagine a shift to the way you see the world that arises through poetic narration. Imagine the world, at its base level, is a collection of selves. These selves collide, disperse, intermingle, and share themselves in lines of free verse. Such is the premise of Versions of the Self, poetry that assumes multiple types of selves exist and relate in ways that alter them. Each of the eight chapters looks at a different type of self, including the singular “I” and romantic interactions. These unique 80 poems definitely color themselves outside of the lines.

MY REVIEW

Christy Birmingham has written her poetry collection Versions of The Self from the first-person viewpoint because it’s about her personal journey. At first I found the constant use of the word “I” off-putting, but my initial reaction fast metamorphosed into feeling privileged, as a reader, to share in Christy’s honest account of putting herself back together, having had a relationship with someone who did his best to destroy her.

She tells of her deep love for this man and his gradual undermining of her confidence through mind-games and abuse, before leaving her for another woman. The form of manipulation she describes him inflicting upon her, is an archetypical use of what psychologists call “gaslighting”, in which the perpetrator’s tactics of manipulation ultimately cause the victim to no longer trust her own judgment. In fact, Christy does have a BA in Psychology and it’s possible that her area of study has retrospectively contributed towards her ability to express in words her traumatic experience.

What follows is an account of a woman lying in fragments, who must somehow learn to see herself as a whole person again and think herself worthy of love, or able to trust another to give of her love to him. It makes incredibly emotive reading, as she makes a detailed examination of the fragments, draws them together, starts to trust her own judgment, and rediscovers joy. It’s a redefining of her as a person, as she comes to accept that she cannot undo her experiences or lose the memory of them, but she can learn to move on beyond them and be a valid human being, with so much to give to the world. In fact, what I loved about Christy’s account was that not for a moment did she wallow in self-pity. Often, I wanted to give her a big hug and say “you are so, so brave. Go for it, gal!”

This poetry collection makes such an emotive read and would speak volumes to people who have or still are experiencing what Christy describes. I loved the way the writing flowed along in free verse with such forward momentum, occasionally pausing on its journey for detailed contemplation of a tiny detail. Christy has such a unique way of organising words and a fresh way of describing exactly what she means, but from a lateral slant.

A highly recommended read.

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Connect with Christy at her wonderful blog Poetic Parfait.

And on social media…

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Versions of The Self (kindle & paperback) is available at
amazon.com
amazon.co.uk
amazon.ca
Plus other Amazon stores

 

Review: Indiot (Isa Maxwell Escapades, Book 2)

Indiot by Ana Spoke

Indiot (Isa Maxwell Escapades, Book 2)
by Ana Spoke (Goodreads Author)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Isa Maxwell’s second adventure proves to be even more entertaining than the first and decidedly more dangerous. This time, the dippy but well-intentioned blonde, having made oodles of money from writing a book, embarks on a trip to India to use some of her wealth to help the poor and dispossessed, plus a supposedly down-on-his-luck prince.

On her flight out to India, Isa meets the glamorous and bejewelled Vivian, who seems like best-friend material at first acquaintance. [Anything further about this relationship would be a spoiler, so my lips are sealed.]

Isa’s arrival in Delhi is a total culture shock. Noise, fumes, chaos, locals haggling for business, police corruption, Indian mafia activities, you name it, Isa finds it, or it finds her. It’s as if her naïvety, combined with good-heartedness, acts as a magnet to those looking for easy pickings. But to underestimate Isa’s ability to pull out all the stops (albeit with plentiful blunders on the way), is to assume that she isn’t capable of great ingenuity when it comes to survival.

Shizzle, Inc (Isa Maxwell Escapades Book 1) was primarily comedy chic-lit, but Indiot is a thriller with OTT elements that amount to comedy of the variety that makes you cover your face or clutch your head as you wonder if things can get any worse for Isa. It would make a great comedy thriller movie, and the fact that I kept seeing it as such, says a great deal about Ana Spoke’s ability to paint an extremely vivid picture of India as seen very much through her central protagonist’s eyes: the idealistic outsider learning the hard way about an alien culture.

Ana Spoke gave me an advance copy of Indiot in exchange for an honest review, although my apologies to the author for not making it until nearly a week after publication day. I actually read the novel in two sittings, which says much about its ability to grip the reader’s attention.The only negative to me–and it’s only something small–was that I felt that there could be a little more about Isa’s relationship with Mr Hue and with her friend Harden in Book 1. This was necessary both as a recap for those who read the previous novel soon after it came out (about 9 months ago), as well as to anyone who picked up Book 2 first and read it as a standalone. So, everybody, read both novels, and read them in the right order.

And when you reach the end of Indiot, I can pretty much guarantee that Ana Spoke will have left you dying to read Isa Maxwell’s Escapade Book 3.

This is an author whose writing gets better and better…

Indiot (Amazon US)
Indiot (Amazon UK)

Goodreads review of Shizzle, Inc (Isa Maxwell Escapades, Book 1)
If you missed reading Shizzle, Inc, you can now download it for free on Kindle (Amazon US & Amazon UK).

Ana Spoke’s blog 
Ana Spoke — Goodreads Author

February’s Guest Storyteller, Ana Spoke (2016)

Review: Hitman Anders And The Meaning Of It All

Hitman Anders and the Meaning of It All by Jonas Jonasson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a an exceptionally quirky story. It’s main characters are a hitman who enjoys breaking legs and various other limbs for money, until he starts reading the Bible; a woman priest sacked from her job who doesn’t believe in God but has a brilliant brain for business, and a male receptionist at the hotel where the hitman is staying after release from prison for the nth time.

It took me a while to get into this novel, mostly due to the strong authorial voice employed. Once I’d accepted that Jonas Jonasson was narrating the tale as would someone versed in the oral tradition of storytelling, and I got into the rhythm of it, then the novel grew on me.

On the dust-jacket of the novel, words such “outrageously zany”, “many laughs”, a “comic delight”, and “feel-good” are applied to it.

Did I think it was funny? I guess so, but more like amusing than hilariously funny. Yes, it was zany. Maybe some of the hilariousness was lost in translation and different nationalities often have different senses of humour. To a Swedish person, the book is probably hilarious. To a British person, not so hilarious. Maybe it’s because I’m used to Nordic noir and not so used to Swedish comedy.

Humour beside, it’s a clever plot, with plenty of twists, turns, and double-crossings. The discussions between the hitman and the priest about God are priceless. In fact, I like the banter and dialogue best.

All in all, if you want to read a novel that doesn’t take too much effort and, in a diverse way (considering the subject matter), does have a feel-good factor rather like watching a farce on television or in the theatre, then give this a go.

I was smiling whilst writing this review, so the novel must have left behind some positive traces.

Give it a go. I’ll certainly try another of Jonasson’s novels in the future.

My review of Winter Smith: London’s Burning by debut author J. S. Strange

Winter Smith by J.S. Strange

Winter Smith: London’s Burning
by J.S. Strange (Goodreads Author)

Awarded 4-stars **** (really liked it) 

What an achievement for a 21-year-old to have written and published a book of over 400 pages in length. Congrats, J.S. Strange, you’re a star.

It seems that people can’t get enough of zombies, whether in books or movies. The zombies are satisfyingly gross in this novel, although I’m confused why some people get bitten and become zombies straight away, some take their time, and some seem to stay dead, while only one gets mentioned as rising from the grave. Doubtless, all will be revealed in Book 2.

I love the central protagonist, 17-year-old Winter Smith, who’s had the misfortune to be born to rich socialite parents who keep shoving her in the limelight and allowing the Press to write all manner of rubbish about her, such as her struggle with alcohol and drugs, when all she wants is to be your average girl next door and get on with living. Basically, she has no friends and no chance to enjoy a private life.

Connor is the ordinary young guy who Winter invites to a big party her parents are throwing, just to cheese them off. I won’t go into details about the gatecrashers to that party, albeit to say that zombies are no respecters of social class when they’re feeling ravenous. Thus Winter’s first date with Connor is one to remember, taken on the run to prevent them becoming dinner. What do I think of their relationship? Under any other circumstances than a zombie apocalypse, I doubt that it would have come to anything.

Then there’s Violet, who has to whore to support her dying mother and two young brothers. Um, Violet is complex and I found myself wildly swinging between feeling sorry for her, to wholeheartedly despising her and wanting to ring her neck. The latter kicked in when the author suddenly jumped to her viewpoint about two-thirds of the way through the novel. This rather did my head in, when everything had been through Winter’s viewpoint up until then. Retrospectively, I decided there was no other way to handle this bit of the story, so all is forgiven. With regard to Violet’s relationship with Zach, as with Winter and Connor, it’s a case of two people being thrown together by extreme circumstances who might otherwise not have noticed each other.

This novel is a real page-turner. Somehow, the author manages to handle in-depth characterisation and scene-paint without resorting to heavy description, while taking the reader on a journey at the speed of an express train. At first, I had difficulty with his tendency to tell rather than show when it came to dialogue tags and the overuse of the word ‘feeling’. For instance, Winter was feeling anxious, feeling scared, feeling nervous, etc. Whether I got used to this as the novel progressed and didn’t notice it anymore, or the author ironed out this flaw, I’m not sure. The likelihood is that I was so breathless with excitement about what was going to happen next that too much showing rather than telling might have slowed down the plot and annoyed me.

There are a few clunky sentences and a tendency to divide words that are usually written as one word into two. The opening pages of the novel were exciting, but I’m not sure that we needed to know all the people’s names involved (three of which began with the letter ‘S’) considering that they were all short-lived characters. But this is all minor stuff and the pernickety editor in me working overtime.

In summary, this is a darned good debut novel and if I was a literary agent or publisher trawling Amazon looking for a young writer with huge potential to sign up and nurture into a future career as a bestselling author, I would leap at the opportunity to represent J.S. Strange.

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To my delight, J. S. Strange has agreed to guest post on my blog later this month, plus being my August guest storyteller! A double treat to look forward to, for us all.

Meanwhile, you might like to read his book, which is available in paperback and on kindle. Also, if you hurry, there’s a promotion running until Friday, 10th June, which means the book will be available to download onto your Kindles for free!

amazon.co.uk
amazon.com

My Review of The Passage by Justin Cronin

The Passage by Justin Cronin

Five Stars ***** it was amazing

This novel by Justin Cronin is epic in the same way as The Stand by Stephen King is. I never thought I’d make that statement, but even Stephen King describes it as having “the vividness that only epic works of fantasy and imagination can achieve”.

The Passage is the first in a trilogy (I shout “yay”!). It’s 785 pages in length, and the next two volumes in the trilogy are nearly as long. Genre-wise, I would describe it as a literary apocalyptic science fiction thriller. It also has vampires of a sort, but not like any you’ll have come across in fiction before. They are freaky, scary, impressive in design, and yet tragic, too.

In brief, the plot is about a virus that threatens to wipe out every living creature on the planet, and one girl called Amy who holds the key to saving the world. Yes, the whole virus thing has been done before, just as it being related to the military messing with science. But the scale of this novel makes it something else altogether: the world-painting, the characterisation, the breadth of vision, the graphic action sequences, and the moments of tenderness interspersed between the horror of what’s taking place.

One small warning, about a third of the way into the novel, the author does a time-jump of nearly a century, seemingly leaving a whole load of characters behind. This caused me a monumental schism in the head when it happened and for about 20 pages I was annoyed. But this feeling passed as things fell into place and I realised the author had a valid reason for doing this, although he risked causing some of his readers to abandon the book at an early stage. Take it from me, you will forgive him if you persevere.

To quote Stephen King yet again: “Read this book and the ordinary world disappears”.

Review: The Woman and the Ape

The Woman and the Ape
The Woman and the Ape by Peter Høeg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This novel deserves ten stars, rather than five. Being a huge fan of Peter Høeg’s work, you can imagine my delight when I stumbled upon an edition published in 1997 of The Woman and the Ape. I’d never heard of the novel before, but the fact that my favourite Danish author had written it and the cover was suitably quirky (not the one featured here, but far better), I couldn’t wait to get home and start turning the book’s yellowed pages.

The experience was like entering a different world and being amazed at every corner turned, the beauty of the writing, the intensity, often the wit (I laughed out loud many times), the total daring of the author to write something so controversial and anti-establishment. Yes, my mouth dropped open a few times. Thoughts entered my mind such as “whoa, he’s actually getting away with this”, “this book must be banned in some countries”, “only the Danes could be this quirky”, and “how can he make something that’s so taboo seem erotic?”

To say too much about the story would be to issue too many spoilers. The twists, turns, and surprises are part of its charm and excitement. I just love the main character Madelene, who’s Danish, although the story is set in London. At the start of the novel, she’s a secret alcoholic and a decorative wife to be wheeled out at the end of each day, to play her part in sweetening her husband’s evenings and nights. It’s a part she plays well at first, until she meets an ape (not an ordinary ape, mind you, but quite an exceptional one). And so the escapade begins, full of high jinx and dare, moments of extreme tenderness, the full works.

For every answer this novel gives, it poses twenty questions more. I keep having to remind myself that it’s a fable, yet one that my mind keeps returning to. I’ve driven family, friends, acquaintances mad trying to persuade them to read it. They look at me as if to say, why would I want to read a novel about a woman and an ape? And I can’t tell them too much because to do so would take the thrill out of their reading experience should they succumb to my pleas.

Many contemporary readers seem to hanker after long and longer novels. In other words, more pages, better value for money, but this isn’t always the case. Long can mean rambling, in need of editing, things better said in fewer words. The Woman and The Ape is a short novel (229 pages in the edition I read). The writing is tight, disciplined, and flawless, literary and yet totally unpretentious and accessible.

If you’re not broad-minded and are easily shocked, then this isn’t the novel for you. For those who love anything thought-provoking and are in possession of an extremely quirky sense of humour, then I can’t recommend this novel highly enough. It’s quite superb and unique.

Peter Høeg, you are the best!

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Review: The Bones of You

The Bones of You
The Bones of You by Debbie Howells
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This brilliant début novel by UK author Debbie Howells gripped me from the beginning. It’s a psychological thriller that examines in depth the dark side that lurks in idyllic villages behind the everyday façade of normality. It’s all about people who live in nice houses in good neighbourhoods and have seemingly perfect jobs, marriages, children, etc.

Rosie Anderson, aged 18, vanishes and is found dead in the woods. Her mother and father are distraught. Their marriage fits into the perfect bracket. She’s a wife who keeps describing her husband as “an amazing man” — once too often.

Kate is a friend of the family and, as the story progresses, she turns amateur sleuth bent on solving the mystery of Rosie’s murder. She also becomes Rosie’s mother’s main confidante and prop.

The story is told mostly from Kate’s viewpoint. Then secondly from the viewpoint of Rosie, telling from beyond the grave the story of her less than happy life with her parents, so that slowly we see the unraveling of what on the surface seemed perfection.

This novel is excellently crafted and deeply disturbing, with its characters drawn in fine detail.

A highly recommended read.

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Review: In a Dark, Dark Wood

In a Dark, Dark Wood
In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This thriller is about a hen party from hell, with a tight cast of people carrying a heap of emotional baggage from the past. Not only do they have axes to grind with one another, but at least one of them is seriously unhinged.

The setting for the novel, as the title suggests, is in a dark, dark wood that’s off the beaten track. There’s no mobile signal, of course. The owner of the property is absent. The house is modern with lots of huge picture-windows without curtains or blinds, meaning that at night anyone can see in, but nobody can see out. Stephen King would be proud of the author!

When reading this book, I admit to being spooked and holding my breath on numerous occasions, if not letting out the occasional shriek of surprise. So yes, the novel succeeded on many fronts but didn’t quite make the 5-star slot, as I disliked the characters immensely and wanted to bang their heads together. This isn’t the first book I’ve read where people have burned their guts with lethal alcoholic cocktails and sniffed coke, it was more that this particular cast were so pretentious and self-absorbed, that is was difficult to feel any sympathy for them.

Of course, bearing in my disdain for the characters, I still felt compelled to read on because the novel is exceedingly well-written. It’s pacy, punchy, spooky, freaky, alarming, and has a satisfactory conclusion.

This is British author Ruth Ware’s début novel and I will definitely want to read her next one when it comes out.

In summary, if you want to read a novel that’s a page-turner and will keep you awake at night, then this is for you.

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Review: Damp Dogs & Rabbit Wee

Damp Dogs & Rabbit Wee
Damp Dogs & Rabbit Wee by Cee Tee Jackson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First selling point of this book is the author himself. Cee Tee Jackson is an ex-bank manager who runs a pet care/dog-walking business in the West of Scotland and sports a mohawk haircut.

Composed of a series of vignettes, the author shares true stories of his work with animals. The tales range from mildly amusing to hilarious, with the odd sadness thrown in. He has a personable and entertaining style of writing that would appeal to a wide age-range of readers.

Throughout the book, I was greatly impressed by the compassion and patience Cee Tee shows towards his charges, plus forgiveness towards animals with temperament issues. …I’m thinking he must have quite a lot of scars. For instance, he has a chapter titled “The Psychopaths” (a rabbit and a cat, to be precise).

My first job was as a kennel maid, which made this book of particular interest to me. I also used to keep rabbits that were all teeth and claws, and once tried offering a home to a rescue cat that was incurably homicidal (feeling great empathy with Cee Tee here).

Primarily, this is a book that dog owners will find incredibly entertaining. It’s clear that Cee Tee loves his work and hasn’t allowed redundancy (twice over) to tip him over into despondency. In fact I’m guessing, from some of his quips about the bank, that in hindsight he sees his new job as a liberation from an organisation he no longer respects.

However, it is obvious he respects animals and that he revels in his hours spent in the countryside rather than behind a desk in a stuffy office. He might end some days muddy, scratched, and smelling of damp dogs and rabbit wee but — what the hell? — the fellow is happy.

My only complaint about this book is that it is too short. Then again, the author does describe himself as “a bit of a short-arse, with a short attention span”.

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This sharing of book reviews is a new thing for me, as I’ve only just stumbled upon this feature on Goodreads.

The author of Damp Dogs & Rabbit Wee will be guest storytelling here in April. Meanwhile, you might like to visit Cee Tee’s blog

 

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